Reading N. T. Wright’s recent response to the overwhelming inadequacy of Stephen Hawking’s atheist dribble reminded me of a fantastic book that I didn’t review here, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies.
Let me first say that David Bentley Hart is, in my opinion, the crème de la crème of contemporary theologians. Even if you want to dismiss Christianity, he’s the guy you have to deal with if you want to do so genuinely. You’ll need a dictionary close by to even work your way through his more “popular-level” work, but it’s worth it. He is an orthodox theologian who writes with lively density and intellectual force.
Hart is more than willing to lampoon intellectually vacuous atheism, which rests on “oceans of historical ignorance, made turbulent by the storms of strident self-righteousness . . . as contemptible as any other form of dreary fundamentalism” (3). Consider his estimate of Dawkins (3),
Richard Dawkins, the zoologist and tireless tractarian, who-despite his embarrassing incapacity for philosophical reasoning-never fails to entrance his eager readers with his rhetorical recklessness.
But, he’s also more than willing to admit that, “there are many forms of atheism that I find far more admirable than many forms of Christianity or of religion in general” (4). Hart’s goal is to force people to reckon with real Christianity historically.
The book that ensues is a rigorously historical account of the growth and expansion of the early church. Along the way he shows what the gospel has done. “A world from which the gospel had been banished would surely be one in which millions more of our fellows would go unfed, unnursed, unsheltered, and uneducated” (15). This is not a romantic claim, but a historical fact. He also attempts to show that many contemporary accounts of Christianity as nonsense are based on “extraordinarily bad arguments” because they are “driven by the precritical and irrational impulses of the purest kind of fideism” (19-20). See what I mean about a dictionary.
Ultimately, he wants to undermine the modern myth of freedom and progress as a farce. The story – “The story the modern world tells of itself now is the story of how we Westerners finally learned to be free, for the first time ever; and so it is also necessarily a story about the bondage from which we have escaped” (25). This story, he says, is grossly inaccurate. Many of the best ideals of modern culture are in fact taken from a Christian worldview without any thought as to how those ideals might be rooted in a coherent belief system. He suggests that the modern myth inevitably results in nihilism.
If you want to understand why serious Christian thinkers don’t take Dawkins and his ilk seriously read this book. If you want to understand the ethics of Christianity in a historical perspective read this book. If you want to read really good writing, read this book. Have I given you enough reasons yet?